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Big Dreams for Carthage

  • President Woodward
    President Woodward
    Carthage College
September 01, 2012

Ask Gregory Woodward about his first visit to the Carthage campus, and he’ll admit flat-out that he cheated. As a finalist in the College’s presidential search, he was invited for an off-campus interview 14 miles away. He wasn’t scheduled to visit campus, but hours before the interview, he steered his rental car toward the lake and kept driving. He parked down by the entrance and started walking.

“It was quite wintry — it was January,” Dr. Woodward remembers. “I had on blue jeans, sneakers and a leather jacket. I walked up and down Campus Drive. I walked up behind campus to see how close I could get to the lake. I climbed over a fence.”

He walked through the TARC, the Johnson Art Center, Hedberg Library. “I bought a bagel. I went into the chapel because it’s so pretty.”

He later learned that Carthage Security spotted him on campus — “a vagrant, wandering around, climbing over fences,” Dr. Woodward joked.

But for him, that unofficial tour was one he needed to take. Then Dean of the School of Music at Ithaca College, one of the best undergraduate music conservatories in the country, “I didn’t need a job. I didn’t need to move,” he said. “I wasn’t going to go through with all the steps unless this was something that I was really excited about.”

A contagious enthusiasm

Today, Dr. Woodward’s excitement for Carthage is the first thing you’ll notice about him, said Debra S. Waller ’78, chairman of the Carthage Board of Trustees. Dr. Woodward became the 22nd president of Carthage on Aug. 4, 2012, succeeding F. Gregory Campbell, who had served as president for 25 years.

“His enthusiasm is contagious,” Ms. Waller said. “He was very, very excited to accept the position, and he just loves the school.” That was very important, she continued. “Carthage is such a special school, and you need a special person to take over the reins after 25 years. I think people are going to be energized by his fresh and new perspective.”

Physics Professor Kevin Crosby, a member of the Presidential Search Committee, agreed. “Dr. Woodward seems to just get us,” Prof. Crosby said. “As I listened to him respond during the initial round of interviews, I was struck by a sense that he offered the right balance between continuity and stewardship of past successes, and the energy and creativity to explore new opportunities for growth.”

Says Dr. Woodward: “I have a lot of energy and I like to do things. I like to build things. I like to make things.” Speaking on just his 10th day on campus, he compared that first week on the job to “drinking from a fire hose”: meetings with senior leadership, Kenosha business and political leaders, College trustees, faculty and staff. Conversations about goals, needs, directions, plans. “Everything I’m learning is totally engaging,” he said. “It’s so cool to think that all of my energies now will be directed toward a single purpose, and that purpose is the health, wellbeing and future of this institution.”

On that first wintry walk through campus, he recalled, he was captivated by the lake, charmed by the campus’ beauty, and comforted by its compact size. Ten days into the job, he was already impressed with its people. “Everybody I’ve met seems to be incredibly dedicated to Carthage,” Dr. Woodward said. “There must be something in the air, in the water. I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t said, ‘I love working here. I love this place.’”

Proven record of academic leadership and success

A saxophonist, composer and former Division I soccer player, Dr. Woodward spent much of his career at Ithaca College, where he began teaching full time in 1978. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music composition from the University of Connecticut, a master’s degree in music composition from Ithaca, and a doctor of musical arts from Cornell University, where he studied under Pulitzer Prize-winning Czech composer Karel Husa. As a professor of music at Ithaca, he taught every class in music theory, composition and history at the graduate and undergraduate level before moving into leadership roles across the college.

He served four years as Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies at Ithaca, during which time he doubled applications and enrollment, created a program of post-doctoral teaching and research fellows, and started the first online certificate programs in gerontology, sustainability and business communications. New programs were added; existing programs were expanded.

In 2010, he was selected to serve as interim Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs, leading the formation of a new 10-year strategic plan focused on academic enhancement and elevation, faculty workload, student advising, and holistic education. A major component of the strategic plan was the creation of a college-wide core curriculum that the college had been trying to create since 1943. More than 300 faculty, staff and students contributed to the plan’s realization, he said.

As Dean of the School of Music from 2008 until he left Ithaca in June, he implemented a new merit aid program to attract outstanding music students; established a preparatory division and summer music academy; created a vision focusing on creativity, diversity and entrepreneurship in the arts; developed music programs in Ghana, China, South America and elsewhere; and increased gifts from alumni.

“Many colleagues and I are particularly excited by President Woodward’s past success having to do with creating new academic programs, and we look forward to his work creating a more diverse faculty and student body here at Carthage,” said Jeffrey Roberg, Vice-Chair of the Academic Senate and Professor of Political Science. “The academic and administrative success that he brings with him can only help Carthage advance to the next level.”

Courage in ideas, collaboration in leadership

Dr. Woodward is certainly not afraid to try new things. Meet with him for an hour, and you may hear 30 new ideas. He’s already known around campus for being a guy who throws ideas out there, then carefully observes how they bounce. “I like to invent things,” he said. “Thinking differently makes life more interesting. As a leader, I think that’s a good thing — with moderation. I have courage to go ahead and try it. If it doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll just do it differently next time.”

He has stated on multiple occasions that shaping a vision for Carthage’s future isn’t his job alone: “A vision is something that should be created by an entire community, and we’re going to do that together,” he said. He plans to form a president’s taskforce on creativity and innovation. “I’m looking for people on staff, on the faculty and in the student body who want to get in a room, take our shoes off, eat silly food, and talk about the future and what this place could be,” he said.

He’s invited faculty and staff to join him for weekly drop-in lunches in the President’s Office, and he looks forward to meeting with students. “I’ll go and eat in the dining hall every once in a while and plop myself down uninvited at some student tables,” he said. “I’ll attend lots of sporting events. I’ll probably play in the Pep Band. … This first year — let’s face it: The first year in any position like this is really a year of listening.”

That attitude is exciting for faculty. “Listening to him speak at the Town Hall and faculty meetings during the search, it was clear to me that he wants to integrate himself into the culture before changing anything,” said Deanna Byrnes, Assistant Professor of Biology. “He wants to know who we are, what we want, and how we can be a part of moving things forward. I think that’s a real strength.”

Brad Andrews, Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement, described Mr. Woodward as “the perfect person to lead Carthage into this exciting new phase of our growth, of our evolution as an institution. So much has happened at Carthage in the last 25 years, we have come so far, and so much is possible in the coming decades,” Mr. Andrews said. “I can’t imagine anybody who would be as enthusiastic and energetic about engaging that potential as Greg Woodward.”

‘Make no little plans’

In the weeks ahead, as campus awakens after a hot, dry summer, and students, faculty and staff immerse themselves in the day-to-day tasks of campus life, Dr. Woodward will hear more, learn more, and meet even more Carthaginians. The College planned a bigger-than-ever Homecoming celebration Sept. 28-30, inviting alumni from all class years back to campus so they could meet Dr. Woodward and take part in a reunion “165 years in the making.” This fall, Dr. Woodward will travel around the country for a series of luncheons and dinners, to speak and meet with alumni and friends of the College.

And he will continue to look for potential in all directions, from the lakefront — “Could we build a boardwalk? An outdoor classroom? An environmental program in water conservation? — to the academic calendar — “What if we decided to make summer a semester? Imagine the internship opportunities our students could have during fall and spring, when other students aren’t out there.” — to our national profile — “I think it would be really, really cool if a decade from now, you could say the name ‘Carthage College’ anywhere in the United States and people would recognize it and know what we’re about.”

“We need to have the courage to think completely differently,” he said. “The College is on a beautiful upward trajectory. We have been growing, not just in size, but in excellence and achievement over the past several decades. But there are still a lot of great things to accomplish. … I don’t need to fix anything, but we do need to push the envelope a little further, and shake people up a little bit so they stay on the path of real excellence.”

He’d like to see Carthage capitalize on its fiscal strength, academic excellence, and devoted faculty and staff. Combined with our ideal location and size, Carthage could become a kind of laboratory for higher education, he said.

“I really believe that with enough energy, this school could set some exciting new ways of thinking about higher education. How do we deal with the issue of rising tuition? How do we deal with the question of face-to-face vs. online learning? How do we mesh athletics, extra-curriculars and co-curriculars with classroom experiences? How do we connect student life fully and smoothly into the academic lives of our students? How do we deal with internships? What do we do about globalization? What are we going to do about student debt?

“The conversation about higher education in the world right now is so confused and chaotic — and mostly critical,” he continued. “Carthage is the kind of place where we could have the opportunity to find better, more creative solutions and really achieve what may be truly a successful fiscal and pedagogical plan for higher education in the 21st century.

“Higher education is sitting on the edge of something, and no one quite knows what it is. I think Carthage could help solve that. That in itself? That’s really, really exciting.”